Dear Sen Warren: A Primer on Being a Woman in Science
NIH Director Francis Collins took to twitter to post a selfie with Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts this week. Warren was holding a picture of her granddaughter, who wants to be a scientist.
While I’m loving the whole girls in STEM vibe, Senator Warren may want to have a little con-fab with House of Representatives buddy, Jackie Speier.
Speier appears to be slightly more in the know about the realities of women in STEM. And when I say ‘realities’ I mean rampant sexual harassment, assault, retaliation, gender bias and other things most people wouldn’t want to subject their grandchildren to.
Standing beside NIH Director, I can only imagine Warren is unaware this man has never doled out any sanction against a scientist who has harassed, assaulted or retaliated against a trainee or colleague. Collins has never taken away a training grant from a university that harbored one. He is, arguably, the biggest obstacle to the safety of women in STEM.
And safety is a very real issues. Over the half the women in STEM report being harassed and 1/3 of women were assaulted by colleagues. These numbers are even worse for people of color. There are plenty of harassers to go around for Collins to make an example of. One was just fired as Dean of USC Medical School this week. After firing one last year who treated women like dirt.
Two weeks ago, the University of Rochester campaign to absolutely wreck women’s NIH-funded research programs came to light. Dean after Dean at that school allowed Florian Jaeger to harass and intimidate them and the male colleagues who tried to protect them. There have been no NIH sanctions or efforts to help these women restore their careers.
Jason Lieb moved from sexually harassing and assaulting trainees to raping one at a university-sponsored retreat. As a culture we pass the trash with a wink and a nod. Trading one retaliatory sexual harasser and general pest for another, bigger-named (ie more NIH money) scientist who has drugged and raped trainees at their last institution. I literally could put 20 more public scandels here from the last three years. And the private examples that pass thru the whisper net let me know there will be plenty of folks stepping up to tell their stories.
Suffice to say, if the NIH Director was serious about ending a culture of harassing women in STEM and making a science a safe and level playing ground for your granddaughter, Senator Warren, he’d take government grants, NIH grants, away from those who sexually harass and intimidate their colleagues and students. He’d ask grant applicants to provide their Dean’s certification they haven’t been found guilty of a Title IX violation.
In the meantime, take your granddaughter on a trip to talk to the women in STEM directly. There are some great women working in Massachusetts. They will show you amazing discoveries they have made. And they will also tell you that many of us think you are standing next to the biggest obstacle for women in science right now, hoping he’ll secure your granddaughters space among us.